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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Precious Pepsi Crate!

The wounds inflicted by the atrocities on the Sikh community in Delhi in the aftermath of Indra Gandhi's assassination were too deep to heal, even long after the disturbances had subsided and the Sikhs had come out of hiding, to carry on with their normal life. Many amongst the Sikh youth, who had lost their relations in the riots, were incited by extremists to join them to avenge the killings. In such an atmosphere of anger and hate, innocent Sikhs, especially the youth, were the worst hit. They were suspected of extremist affiliations, and not trusted for employment. It was during that time, my wife noticed a Sikh youth traveling daily in her bus but going nowhere to work. Once in a while he would be driving the bus as the substitute driver, when the regular driver did not report on duty. It was a private bus running under contract with Delhi Transport Service. One day my wife, out of curiosity, asked the young man as to what brought him to the bus every day when he worked as a driver only once in a while.
“Aunty, when one has no work, even a few days' work is fantastic. So that I do not miss the rare chance to work, I must come daily.”
“Have you tried for a full time job?”
“I tried very hard but did not get any. I have a bachelor's degree and I also know typing, still no jobs. It is a curse to be an unemployed Sikh in the capital, nobody wants to employ him.”
“You should try in an establishment owned by a Sikh entrepreneur.”
“I did, but it was no different. Even they avoid hiring Sikhs, being scared to lose business from their Hindu clients.”
“I will check up with a Sikh friend of ours, who owns a travel agency, if he can help you.”

Pratap, the Sikh youth, got a job with the travel agency the next day. But his bad-luck, he lost it after a few months. The owner, our friend, who gave him the employment, sold the company and migrated to Canada, as many Sikh businessmen were doing those days. The new owner did not take time to sack Pratap, as he did not want to take the risk of employing an “extremist”. Pratap was once again on the road, riding the same bus my wife took to her school. He told her what happened at work. He also informed her that during the time he worked with the travel agency, he was also trained to serve as a tourist guide to meet the rush during tourist season.
“How about starting your own tourist service, and take advantage of the training you got?”
“No Aunty, it's not that easy. Leave aside the money part that I may be able to arrange from my family, no one will let out premises to me for the purpose.”
“I know, but what I have in mind does not need to rent out premises. You only need resources to buy or rent out a cab or a three-wheeler, and then you can operate from your vehicle parked outside any hotel that is popular amongst foreign tourists. I have seen the system working at many tourist places.”

And within a week, Prarap was driving a three-wheeler auto-rickshaw, taking tourists from their hotel to sightseeing places in Delhi. He was making money, but only in the tourist season, which was the shortest of all seasons, hardly a month and a half around Christmas. This was not enough to sustain him for the whole year. What to do? He knew the answer was with his bus-aunty. As soon as the season was off and hardly any tourists were left in the hotel, he came to the bus to consult my wife on the problem he faced. And as he had hoped, she had an answer.
“You are a good driver with experience of driving heavy vehicles on Delhi roads. There is a huge demand for truck drivers in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My husband knows someone who recruits drivers and other workers for working in the Middle East. He may be able to help you.”

It took a little over a month, the time taken for obtaining passport and completing other paper work, for Pratap to be on his flight to Kuwait. A contractor had employed him as a truck driver, through the recruiting agency run by a friend of mine. The contract was for three years with a provision for extension for the same period after its expiry. However, even much before the three year contract was to expire, Pratap's stay in Kuwait was cut short. Iraq had attacked Kuwait and the Gulf War was about to start. Air India evacuated Pratap, along with thousands of other Indians working in Kuwait in one of the biggest airlifts in the world. And there he was, once again without work, to consult my wife, concerning his next occupation. It was Sunday and we were both home.
“Thank God, you are back before the war begins. I would have felt guilty all my life for suggesting you to go to Kuwait if something had happened to you there.” My wife was happy to see him return safely.
“Thanks to Air India, we were evacuated from Kuwait in time. But it cut short my career in Kuwait, and I am again without work here.” Pratap did not hesitate to straightaway come to the subject of his next employment.
“He had helped you get a job in Kuwait, it is now his responsibility to find you a replacement for the one you lost there.” She laughed looking at me.

I suggested to Pratap to try walk-in-interviews for drivers-cum-salesmen, the position advertised by Pepsi in the paper the same day, which had attracted my attention just before Pratap came. The interviews were scheduled to start the same day and Pratap thanked us and rushed to reach the company to take a chance in Pepsi. Next day a big Pepsi truck stopped in front of our house from which Pratap stepped out carrying a crate of Pepsi. It was his first day of service in Pepsi. He put the crate on the floor, touched our feet, trying to find words to express his gratitude.
“I thought it would be the most auspicious start to my career in Pepsi if you agree to be my first customer. How blessed I feel before you is beyond anybody's imagination, not even of my parents.”
“Of course, we would be the happiest to be your first customer . God bless you.” My wife said.

Pratap continued his career in Pepsi, working hard to go up the ladder of success, step by step. For us, that was the most precious crate of Pepsi we ever bought. We, especially my wife, always cherished it for the joy of making a difference in Pratap's life.


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